Obesity in Women is on the Rise, Leaving Researchers Stumped


Obesity Rates Higher Among Minority Women

The prevalence of obesity among men and women has remained largely the same over the last decade. But recent numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal a disturbing trend: While obesity among men plateaued, women’s obesity rates actually increased in recent years.

In 2014, over 40 percent of adult women were obese compared to 35 percent of men. More troubling still was the difference in morbid obesity rates — nearly 10 percent of women were morbidly obese compared to just 5 percent of men.

“It’s a really alarming figure, and it’s alarming that it’s continuing to go up despite government calls to action on weight loss and healthy eating,” said dietitian Dana Hunnes.

Obesity is especially prevalent among minority women: 57 percent of black women and 47 percent of Hispanic women are obese, whereas obesity rates among men of different races stand at 35 to 38 percent for blacks, Hispanics, and whites.

To figure out why women’s health is declining so rapidly, a recent study published in JAMA controlled for changes in education, smoking status, race, or age among female study participants. Still, they were left scratching their heads. "None of those things explained the increase we saw," said Cynthia Ogden, one of the study authors.

Brian Elbel, a professor in population health and health policy at the NYU School of Medicine, blames this mystery on our society’s inability to address or combat obesity.  "We're still seeing plateaus and increases in the obesity rates," he said, "and we don't know why the plateaus happened, or why the increases happened."

While researchers dig deeper to find the root causes of this disturbing and inexplicable trend, one thing is certain: obesity is a harbinger of a host of other health problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. If left unchecked, this uptick in obesity will have a dramatic and dangerous impact on women’s overall well-being. Keep an eye on our Editorial page as we delve into these issues and the myriad social determinants affecting women’s physical and mental health in the United States today.

Topics: health disparities public health

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